If you're anything like me, you like to really indulge during the holidays with yummy homemade baked goods and drinks. Lots of wine, buttery potato dishes, pies, cheese, and let's not forget the breads. So. Much. Bread. Between Thanksgiving, holiday parties, Christmas, and New Years, there's a good chance we're eating lots of foods that don't exactly make us feel light as a feather the next day. And that's okay! The holidays are meant to be spent with friends and family while sharing your favorite foods and celebrating traditions. But have you noticed that through the month of December your gut seems to be a bit off? Reoccurring symptoms like excessive bloating, gas, stomach aches, sluggishness, slower digestion, cramps, etc. This is not uncommon! It's usually a sign that we ate more than our bodies could digest at once, or that a certain food just isn't sitting right with us. For many of us, these symptoms tend to pop up when we eat excessive dairy, gluten, or sugar.
Back in the 90's and early 2000's, we were told that a low-fat diet was the key to losing weight and staying healthy. Now, the tables have turned and we're told that a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates is the optimal way to burn fat and get shredded. Somehow the media and this new trendy diet has caused us to think that carbs are the reason we can't lose weight or look how we want in a bikini. There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to weight loss or even just maintaining a healthy weight in general. Things like genetics, inflammation, gut health, hormones, daily water intake, sleeping patterns, and timing of eating can all play a role in weight! Sounds frustrating and a bit overwhelming, right? Let me make it at least tiny bit less stressful for you. Carbohydrates are not your enemy and are most likely not the culprit for why you can't seem to lose the weight you want. The reality is, carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source, and I believe we'd be doing ourselves a major disservice by denying ourselves the opportunity to truly enjoy them. Now, if you're eating refined carbs like chips, pretzels, white breads and pastas, and processed baked goods every day, that can not only interfere with your goals, but also affect your overall health. But if you tend to focus on complex carbs such as whole and sprouted grains, fiber rich fruits, potatoes, oats, and starchy vegetables, odds are that you're doing just fine in that department.
Most of us have heard about the importance of getting in our omega-3's. But what exactly is an omega-3? Well, it's technically an essential fatty acid, emphasis on the word "essential". This is a type of polyunsaturated fat (vs. a saturated fat) that cannot be produced by the body, therefore we have to look to food sources to obtain it. Omega-3 fatty acids aren't the only kind we should be paying attention to, however! There's also omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, all of which are extremely beneficial to the body and needed in particular quantities and from various sources. Almost every type of omega fatty acid has its own subtypes - confusing, right? Let me break down the types, sources, and benefits of each to help you understand why we need them and how we can get them in our diet on a daily basis.
I can still picture the homemade school lunches that my mom would pack for me every day perfectly. Natural peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, usually a fruit like grapes, oranges, or an apple, goldfish, and an organic cheese stick. My mom never kept us from eating foods that we loved, but she did have her limits. For example, there was maybe two times ever that she let us have a Lunchable. Fruity Pebbles were definitely off limits due to the crazy artificial colors, and you could forget about Heinz Ez Squirt colored ketchups that were on the market at the time. But seriously, why was that ever a thing? I knew early on that packaged and processed meals were typically full of crap. As a kid, there were definitely times where I was jealous when my friends got to eat their pizza Lunchable, Trix yogurt, Yoohoo chocolate milk, or especially hot lunch from the cafeteria. I craved junk food just like any normal kid, but I already had some of the basic knowledge that allowed me to make educated choices. I was also one of the pickiest eaters around, so when my mom was able to feed me nutritious foods that I liked, that was an extra bonus.
It's unfortunate that the majority of healthy, organic, and local foods tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts. It can make eating clean and wholesome foods that much more challenging, stressful, and unappealing. As someone who is typically always on a budget, I've been there! That's why I like to buy foods that will give me a good bang for my buck, meaning I want to get a nutrient dense punch if I'm going to be spending my hard-earned dollars on it. While I've been able to find lots of different healthy foods for decent prices, I have a list of my top 5 nutrient-dense foods I always have stocked in the kitchen. I picked these 5 because not only are they fantastic for maintaining gut health, but they'll also help your face look like a ray of sunshine.
First, let me start off by saying that I think the way we view the word "diet" needs to drastically change. The connotation behind the word can bring up bouts of anxiety in people due to the stress that typically follows a strict dieting period. Almost every other day I hear someone describe the current diet they're trying out, whether it be keto, paleo, whole30, gluten-free, a juice cleanse, etc. People become frustrated over how their diets aren't working effectively or that they can't stay committed to their current meal plan. They're worried they won't obtain the results they want in a certain time period unless they restrict, restrict, restrict. What I keep seeing is that while many diets can be temporarily effective (meaning it results in weight loss), the body becomes confused on how to eat and process foods once people go back to their old way of eating. The media loves to amp up each new trend and diss the last one, causing people to think they've been doing it all wrong and sending them straight into the next trendy diet. Not only are our minds confused, but our bodies don't understand how to recalibrate appropriately with all this yo-yo dieting!
Gut health has become a widely popular topic in the field of health and nutrition the past decade, and honestly, it's about time. Your gut houses 70% of your body's immune cells, produces 95% of its serotonin (the neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, mood, sleep, etc), and acts as its own brain. Like, what? That means it's probably super important that we take extra good care of our gut every single day. We've been told for years that fiber is the way to keep our gut healthy - and that's extremely true - but there are so many other key components to keeping your gut healthy and everything running smoothly. Anyone here enjoy feeling moody, bloated, constipated, or gassy? Yeah, me neither. So the next time you're feeling grumpy and grumbly, try incorporating these steps into your daily routine to omit the next bout of gut dismay!
1. Eat your probiotics and prebiotics
Some of you reading this may already be taking a daily probiotic - and that's fantastic! But it is so important to incorporate whole foods into each meal that contain both probiotics, which are the good bacteria that make up your microbiome, and prebiotics, the food that feeds that good bacteria. It's all about diversity. By eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and high-quality cultured dairy (I'm not talking shredded taco cheese), you automatically help your gut receive tons of wonderfully beneficial bacteria that can improve your immune system, mood, energy levels, and even combat tons of common diseases. Some examples of foods loaded with probiotics include kombucha (I'm drinking GT's Kombucha as we speak), organic and grass-fed plain yogurt, kefir, tempeh (fermented soy), miso, kimchi, raw apple cider vinegar, saurkraut, and even pickles! (Please, not the kind with gross preservatives and coloring added).